This centuries-old noodle soup harks back to the countryside folks of eastern Hungary who lived in and around the town of Debrecen. Lebbencs is the name for huge sheets of paper-thin dough they'd roll and then dry in the pantry. As needed for their daily cooking, they’d chip off bits from it. The foundation of this simple but rewarding soup is rendered szalonna in which the lebbencs is lightly roasted. If you don’t have extra space in your pantry and can’t buy dried lebbencs in your local supermarket, don’t despair: cracking sheets of lasagne pasta works just as well.
Yield: 4-6 servings; 30 minutes; Total time: 30 minutes
200 grams (½ pound) smoked pork belly or bacon, cut into small cubes, about 1 cm (½ inch) long. Remove skin if using pork belly.
1 onion, minced
1 ½ tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
2 pinches of pepper
150 grams (⅓ pound) dried pasta, ideally the flat and square-shaped Hungarian “csusza” but you can also use lasagne pasta, cracking the sheets into 1 ½-inch bits.
3 medium potatoes, cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) chunks
1 ripe medium tomato, peeled and cut into very small pieces (or puréed into smooth paste using an immersion blender)
1 Hungarian wax pepper or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into very small pieces (or puréed into smooth paste using an immersion blender)
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
2 liters (2.1 quarts) water
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius (375 Fahrenheit). Scatter the bits of pasta on a baking sheet and place in the oven to roast. They’re ready when golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Step 2: In the meantime, add the cubes of pork belly or bacon into a large pot or Dutch oven and render the fat on medium-heat until meat turns golden-brown and crispy, about 8-10 minutes.
Step 3: Add onions to the pot and sauté until translucent, about 5-6 minutes.
Step 4: Add potato chunks, paprika, small bits of tomato and yellow pepper, and season with salt and pepper. Pour in the 2 liters (2.1 quarts) of water to cover them, then add pasta from the oven. Place lid on pot and let it cook on a brisk simmer for about 10 minutes.
Step 5: Taste and add more salt if needed. Serve in a bowl with a drizzle of parsley on top.
Words of advice
You can simplify this recipe by toasting the noodles directly in the pot alongside the onions, instead of using the oven. They won’t get as nicely browned but it gets the job done.
I created these recipes with the help of nearly a dozen historical Hungarian cookbooks, adjusting ingredients, cooking times, and methods to reflect my own preferences and tastes of the current day.